‘I’m going to cheat’: How cancer made me change my thinking
Strange isn’t it how confronting one’s mortality makes the morning light glow brighter. The frantic monkey mind of sleeplessness settles as dawn breaks. Perhaps it’s the relief of another day. Another beginning. I made it.
Not that I expected to drift towards death overnight. I’m sick, but not that sick. It’s just that a new day brings hope, fresh promise. Including to the self. And today I have a big one. I’ve decided to cheat on my relationship.
I’m going to become a first class cheat. I should have done this years ago. Funny how a cancer diagnosis can clear away the personal cobwebs we hide behind. A worsening diagnosis adds polish to the jewel of clarity.
Now I’m ready to rip through the facade of niceness and bust out. This is not a plan to cheat on my marriage. Rather I’m going to cheat on me. My relationship with myself.
The day before I underwent surgery for bowel cancer, blissfully optimistic that I would not be one of the 12 Australians who die each day from the disease, I wrote a column about the kindness of strangers. The gentle laughter and altruism from randoms with whom I boldly shared my “secret” had enveloped me, nurtured me and gave me reason to roll into the operating theatre in a gentle fog of serenity.
It’s been a rocky ride since. And as each of the 42 Australians diagnosed every day with bowel cancer know, those insidious cells have a wilful mind of their own. They’re adventure seekers and our internal organs provide a glorious playground. Not even fake news – “all is well” – cuts through. Cancer cells ignore the boffins. They’re curious mites who thrive on movement.
So, what’s cheating got to do with it? Quite simply, it occurred to me in those wee dark hours that if cancer cells can cheat me. I can play at this game too. I’ll also cheat.
Over the past several months a flotilla of strangers, along with friends, colleagues, loved ones, those precious and much beloved medical staff, and the people who have literally stopped me in the street, have collectively gifted me the most precious insight of all – kindness.
I have been overwhelmed by how generous and caring Australians are towards one another. Daily, unseen acts of kindness flourish in this country when someone is in need, hurting, or feeling afraid. We don’t pause to reach out a hand. We are tremendously kind to one another.
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And yet – strangely – we don’t extend that kindness to ourselves. Women most of all. Mothers worst of all.
Not only are women our own harshest critics, but our toughest, most demanding lovers.
I have a tortuous affair with myself. My demanding self is never, ever sated. I’ve never done enough, achieved enough, worked hard enough. Even in sickness I am plagued by guilt about failure. Failure as wife, sister, friend. Failure to answer all those emails, messages, return the calls. Failure to thank people. Failure to spend bedridden hours churning out long overdue work reports, write those research proposals. In sum – I’m an all-round failure. In sickness and health. Always have been and probably always will be.
Which is why the only clear eyed (thank you daylight!) solution is – to cheat.
As a declared cheat and new self-kindness practitioner I’ve decided to give myself a wide berth. I’m going to ease up on what I haven’t done and tick off what I almost did. I’m going to invert my work richter scale, where good intent, happy compromise and bold ideas rate better than “submitted on time”. As a consenting adult I’m going to give myself permission to go slow; cut corners; let lingering to-do lists die a natural death; and say no when I know I should say yes.
In fact, I’m going to become so jolly kind to myself that it won’t even feel like I’m cheating the facts. I will float in my new bubble buoyed by one of life’s most valuable lessons. I knew kindness to strangers helped make us human, but now I know kindness to self is what makes us whole.